Everyday Hero: Julie Thompson

Posted: August 26, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Name: Julie E. Thompson

Years at Mason: 9

Current Position: Operations Manager, College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA)

What She Really Does: Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain! That’s just Julie Thompson making sure everything is running smoothly and everyone has what he or she needs. Thompson handles the day-to-day operations for the college, which presents about 425 productions a year. These include everything from student recitals to full-scale operas in the college’s multiple performance venues, including Harris Theatre and TheaterSpace.

First Job at Mason: Thompson was first hired as an artists’ services coordinator for the Center for the Arts (CFA), where she handled arrangements for the artists. That could include anything from getting them picked up at the airport to making sure they made it to the Concert Hall. “It was my job to make sure they got to the stage when they were supposed to be there,” says Thompson.

Her Life Before Mason: Before joining the CFA, Thompson was a stage manager for 15 years. After graduating with a degree in theater from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., she worked as stage manager for the Minnesota Opera Company in Minneapolis. “It was an incredible place to start,” says Thompson of her first job. “It turned out to be a great place to learn.” Locally, she has worked with companies such as the Washington Opera, the Wolf Trap Opera Company, and Center Stage.

What You Might Not Know about Her: Thompson is married to Rick Davis, associate dean of the CVPA and artistic director of CFA. They met as undergraduates at Lawrence University.

Julie Thompson
Photo by David Smith

About Being on Stage: “I gave that up in college,” says Thompson of acting, and she doesn’t have a desire to return to the stage. Thompson grew up in a theatrical family. “My father ran a summer theater,” she says. “And we—there were six of us—were forced to be in plays, wash dishes, build scenery, and do whatever needed to be done.” Her father’s company was called the Troupe of American College Players, a summer stock theater held each summer in Colorado. “Rick worked there one summer,” she continues. “We have a family joke that all the spouses had to go through that as a kind of boot camp.” And yes, the company performed The Sound of Music, a dinner theater and summer stock staple. Thompson got to play Gretel.

What She Likes Best about Her Job: “Doing six or seven things at a time,” she says. “That’s the challenge of it, the intensity. And the opportunity to work with world-class performers that the center brings in.” Thompson also enjoys working with the student artists throughout the year. “I love working on a university campus. We have some amazing students here,” she says. “The quality of the student work has really taken off.”

The Most Interesting Famous Person She Has Worked With: Children’s book author Maurice Sendak. Thompson worked with the author when Minnesota Opera Company mounted a one-act opera of his best-selling book, Where the Wild Things Are. “The set design and costumes were right out of the book,” she says. “[Sendak] was there to supervise the production of the huge puppets that were most of the characters. They each had to be operated by two people. It was pretty terrific to spend time with [Sendak].”

The Strangest Production Request from an Entertainer: Cloudgate Dance Theater of Taiwan brought sacks of rice. During the last 10 minutes of one of the troupe’s dances, the stage crew was to drop rice. “We had rice dust for weeks afterwards.”

The Largest Production She Has Worked On: “It has to be when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir came here,” she says. Not only did the choir bring its own orchestra and pipe organ, there was inclement weather. “It was kind of a triple threat,” she says. “The elevator was out, so it was incredibly difficult to get things moved. It was going to be broadcast live. There was snow….” Everything went off fine, but it sure had Thompson and the rest of the production staff scrambling. “That was definitely one for the ages,” she adds.

What She Does for Fun: In their spare time, Thompson and Davis have been renovating their home in Warrenton, Va. She also likes to travel, ride a bike, and read historical nonfiction. Davis recently bought an older plane, which is being worked on. Will she be soaring through the skies above the campus? Yes, but not in the pilot’s seat. “Rick’s the pilot in the family. He’s had his license for about 11 years,” she says. “I am more than happy to be the passenger.”

What They Say about Her:

“One of the most important moments in my long relationship with Julie was last fall, after the death of adjunct Mark Craver. He was a promising poet who already had published a couple of books. His main job, though, was teaching at a nearby high school. In the English Department, we were talking about a small memorial service when Mark’s family called and said his fellow high school teachers, students, and former students could be coming to the memorial service—more than 400 of them. I was asked to find a venue. Immediately, I started trying to find Julie. It was well past quitting time, and I had to leave a message for her. She called me back that night, and we began working out the details. I was able that night to tell the family where the service would be. It was Thursday night, and on Sunday, 500 of us were in Harris Theatre. Julie even had found someone to come in on short notice to work as house staff for us. Julie made it possible for us to respond to a very extraordinary need.”

—William Miller, Director, Creative Writing Program, Department of English

“Julie is a consummate professional. Her work behind the scenes with her dedicated staff is the main reason why Center for the Arts patrons see only a seamless performance that appears to happen so effortlessly.”

—Ellen Acconcia, publicist/marketing coordinator, Center for the Arts

“Julie Thompson has the unique ability to keep the plates spinning and the bowling pins in the air without having them crash into each other. She is the epitome of the word ‘manager,’ without whom our work would be so much more difficult. She executes her responsibilities with grace, resolve, and a mutual respect for her colleagues.”

—Kevin Murray, managing director, Theater of the First Amendment

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